Health

Russian Orthodox leaders brand Easter church closures discriminatory

By Ignacio Ortega

Moscow, Apr 17 (efe-epa).- Russian Orthodox leaders have accused the government of discriminating against religious people following its decision to close places of worship over the Easter period due to coronavirus with many church-goers in rural areas flouting the rules and going to mass to pray for the end of the pandemic.

Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on 19 April, including the vast majority of Russians regardless of their beliefs.

“Our temple is big. We could accommodate 100 parishioners while maintaining social distancing. This would be much better than the lawmakers in the Duma meeting daily, with more than 500 people in the same room,” Vladimir Vigilansky, archpriest of the Church of Saint Tatiana the Martyr, tells Efe.

His church held an Easter Friday mass with one priest, an assistant, several women in the choir and three reporters to capture the service.

The church, located 300 meters from the Kremlin in the Russian capital, was under lock and key and to access it you need to ring the bell armed with a special invitation from the Patriarch of Moscow.

On top of a shelf in the church, which is adjoined to the Moscow State University, is a tray of plastic spoons which are now used to give communion individually to avoid the transmission of Covid-19.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before. The faithful don’t have the same rights as others, there is an element of discrimination. The shops can remain open, so can the metro, construction sites, but not us.”Vigilansky thought it especially humiliating that priests were not allowed to comfort people dying in hospital.

“It’s cruel to the infirm and the dying. Furthermore, it contradicts the constitution,” he says Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, at first tried to resist the health recommendations mandated by the government but ended up accepting them.

“The soul can also be saved without going to church,” he says.

Since then, he has been silent. A move, according to analysts, as to not damage the strong alliance he has with President Vladimir Putin, who is a member of the church and has worked hard over the last 20 years to restore many of the properties expropriated by the Soviets.

Kirill did make an appearance at the beginning of the month, praying for the end of the pandemic from a high-end Mercedes car that made the rounds of the capital.

According to the Church, 40 members have come down with Covid-19, but the number of people who have contracted the virus having attended a church service remains unknown.

“People are still going to church. They need moral support. We can’t kick them out,” one priest tells Efe on the condition of anonymity.

He adds, however, that nobody was taking communion, which is deemed to be too risky.

Vigilansky estimates that 50 per cent of regional governments had not prohibited church services, including in areas including Tula, Tver and Kaluga.

In contrast, other regional authorities have called on the police to help prevent people from accessing places of worship.

Certain organisations close to the Moscow Patriarch launched protests, saying that for the Orthodox faithful going to church is more important than buying bread.

They also say that the restrictive measures contradicted the recent decision to include the word of God in the Russian constitution.

Vigilansky says non-believers are unable to comprehend how the faithful felt about not being able to go to church, although he acknowledges that people’s health could not be put at risk.

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